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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pomegranate Christmas

Photo used with permission from my beautiful amazing artist friend Griselda Tello: visit her ETSY shop:

Demeter's heart is a pomegranate,
split open, bursting,
bleeding, spilling,
dripping tart raw ruby tears,
ripe with 613 new sorrows
born from a daughter's joy.
Persephone lives in Paradise.
'Tis Demeter who searches,
the weight of sadness
bowing her back,
slowing her steps,
through barren trees
once lush and green,
searching not for Persephone,
but for herself.
She weeps for herself,
she weeps for Persephone,
knowing that one day,
she too will know
the ripening of a pomegranate heart,.

c. Maripat Doyle Oberg 11/22/11

Perhaps the best known of all the harvest mythologies is the story of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter was a goddess of grain and of the harvest in ancient Greece. Her daughter, Persephone, caught the eye of Hades, god of the underworld. When Hades abducted Persephone and took her back to the underworld, Demeter's grief caused the crops on earth to die and go dormant. By the time she finally recovered her daughter, Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds, and so was doomed to spend six months of the year in the underworld. These six months are the time when the earth dies, beginning at the time of the autumn equinox. Each year, Demeter mourns the loss of her daughter for six months. At Ostara, the greening of the earth begins once more and life begins anew.

In some interpretations of the story, Persephone is not held in the underworld against her will. Instead, she chooses to stay there for six months each year so that she can bring a little bit of brightness and light to the souls doomed to spend eternity with Hades.

I have always been fascinated with the myth and archetypes of Demeter and Persephone, long before I became a mother for the first time, and long before I had my third child, my beautiful daughter Julia Wren. I adore my sons, have loved them fiercely like a tiger mother, and while all mothers know that there will be the inevitable tearing of heart when their sons find the person with whom they will want to share their lives, replacing us at the center of their hearts, there is however a bitter sweetness inherent in the joy of birthing a daughter. When my daughter was born a deep healing of ancient hurts began, while at the same time I knew that someday there would be a wound to my heart that can only be known at that point where this tiny someday-woman would become Persephone to my Demeter. It is a paradox of sorts, this rending of the heart while rejoicing for her deep love for a man who seems truly worthy of the gift that of herself.

I had never eaten a pomegranate prior to September 2009. I am an avid reader of Sue Monk Kidd and waited anxiously for her book TRAVELING WITH POMEGRANATES. Pomegranates are dear and rare in the woods of far northern MN, where we live 20 minutes away from the Canadian Borders of both Manitoba and Ontario, where our winters are long, spring, summer and autumn squeezed into 6 months. I wept when reading TRAVELING WITH POMEGRANATES, in which my heart resonated with what Sue was saying about her own pomegranate heart, knowing in my heart of hearts that my pomegranate heart was ripening. My husband was away on a trip to a theological event, in "The Tropical Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul MN" for several days when I read the book. He searched several markets in search of the fruit and brought me two pomegranates from one of the markets there. Having no idea how to eat a pomegranate that wasn't distilled into bottle jellies, juices, and syrups, I researched the internet to find how to even cut and eat the fruit. I remember how fascinated I was with the red, juicy fruit, how it spilled open, ooozing, as if it were a bleeding heart filled with uncountable possibilities.

Last week I realized that my pomegranate heart was ripened, ready to spill open, when Julie Wren told me that she would not be coming home for Christmas this year, she will be spending it with her young man and his family. It is as it should be, to be with the person we love most, the person to whom we give our deepest gift of self. I rejoice for her even while swallowing a lump in my throat each time I think of the actual days of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day without her physically present.. There are no words to illustrate what that meant to me, of all my children, none of them love Christmas as much as Julie Wren, for me she has probably been the heart of all my Christmases for the past 31 years when my husband is so busy with his job as pastor of two congregations, that there is often not a lot of time left for us. She was our Christmas baby, born 3 weeks before Christmas in 1980, a bundle of red velvet and lace beneath the Christmas tree, the daughter I'd hoped for, an unexpected gift. She has been the source of nothing but joy, always, in all ways! We baked Christmas cookies together so many years, read THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGENT EVER together, plotted and planned Christmas surprises in lean and fat years, decorated the house together, sat with tea and cookies in the light of the Christmas tree, watching cheesy Christmas movies and programs. Our sons were and are a source of joy on the holidays, their absence on those actual holidays after finding women they adored and married caused an ache, not less of an ache, just a different kind of ache. But this will be a different kind of Christmas with none of the children at home. I will make it a Pomegranate Christmas. This Christmas as well, we are grieving the loss of our daughter-in-law who abruptly left our son July 6, to go live with his best friend, one of Ashlyn Rose’s godparents. I have been sitting in the ashes of grief long enough, it's time to spread them around and give them away. I do not write this blog entry to make any of my children feel responsible for my pain, or guilty about not being here for the actual Christmas days, but rather in the thought that there may be some other Demeter out there who needs to know that others are feeling the same wrench of heart. It is my thought that perhaps Demeter grieved so intensely because she did not let others share in her sorrow, she let her grief cause others to suffer. I cannot bear the thought of causing others pain because of my own. I think that Demeter was not only searching for and grieving for her Persephone, she was grieving for the parts of her identity that were tied so tightly to her Persephone. That's an unfair burden on Persephone (or any child!), love is not a stranglehold that requires the other to present themselves out of duty or under other duress, love is all about letting go so that the other is free to be whoever they are, and loving them completely and unconditionally without expectation. It may be cliché to say that when we love someone/something and let it go, it does return, but there is a deep wisdom in many clichés. They become cliché because they stem from common human experience.

Some legends claim that the pomegranate was the fruit of knowledge, the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, a source of ancient and divine wisdom. The pomegranate tree and fruit are prevalent in Mideastern, Eastern and Mediterranean story and myth, but they have a universal appeal. Yesterday I turned 60 years old, a monumental day that was marked pleasantly but quietly with my husband Tom. In 60 years I have seen the best and worst of humanity, good and evil, sorrow and joys, abundance and loss. I did not tell Tom that I was searching for a pomegranate, he would go to great lengths to give me anything my heart truly desires. But there are some desires that even he cannot fulfill. Some desires we must quench for ourselves. When we cannot find the pomegranates we will find something else to quench that hunger. Not just any old thing, but something that will fill us with wonder, something dear and precious and rare.

Another thing I learned about pomegranates recently was that even if you don't pick them from the tree they will ripen and burst on their own when it is time. I may not have been ready for the harvest of my pomegranate heart, but it ripened none the less. Jewish legend says that there are 613 seeds in a pomegranate (symbolic of the 613 laws in the Torah). I don't know if that's true, I've not counted them myself, but I will be looking for pomegranate seeds in each day between now and the 24th of December, roughly 24 blessings, insights, actions, joys, delights, perhaps even sorrows in the mix. Who knows what seed will become an orchard of pomegranate trees in the future? There is comfort in knowing that I do not have to swallow all the pomegranate seeds myself. Tart juicy seedy pomegranates are best when shared.

I intend to have and enjoy a juicy Pomegranate Christmas!


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